Last weekend, I decided to go to the movies and watch The Man With The Iron Fists, a hyper-bloody Kung Fu romp that marks the directorial de but of the Wu Tang Clan’s RZA. Besides being the perfect Saturday night cinema fodder for when you just want to turn off your brain and shove popcorn in your mouth, TMWTIF is notable for its setting: an alternate-world rural China in which no two people have the same hairstyle. Also, there is a good chance Russell Crowe agreed to be in this film before he read the script. This is just the best kind of bad movie. Watch it in a crowded theatre, you’ll have a blast.
But TMWTIF got me thinking about what the best and worst martial arts movies on Netflix are. After running through lighter fare such as Kung Fu Hustle, and more serious stuff such as Ip Man (not to mention three or four aborted attempts to sit through anything featuring Steven Seagal and his float-like-an-anvil-sting-like-a-plate-of-mashed-potatoes brand of “martial arts”), I found that many of the best and worst fighting films on Netflix happen to star the same person.
Rumble In The Bronx (And also The Legend Of Drunken Master)
Jackie Chan is not a man. Jackie Chan is a sentient amalgam of iron bones and kinetic energy, a dodge-ball wrapped in razor wire. Sure, in recent years, his career has reclined lazily into the plush confines of formulaic kids’ movies and buddy-cop action comedies. But back in the day, Mr. Chan regularly did things like this and this and holy crap this. That any of this man’s nerve endings still fire off the occasional signal to his brain is in of itself miraculous. If anybody has earned the right to phone in a stunt, it’s Jackie “I Once Got Hit In The Chest By A Helicopter” Chan.
Besides having an awesome title for a martial arts movie, Rumble In The Bronx was the film that helped make Mr. Chan famous in America. Released in 1995, it is, in almost every conventional sense, a terrible film. The plot centres on stolen diamonds, or some such thing, and is wildly irrelevant. Thanks to mediocre acting and even worse English-language voice-overs, nobody in the movie seems to react to any situation the way you’d expect a normal, non-deranged person to react. Most of the bad guys are dressed like extras from a 4 Non Blondes music video, and ride around in brightly painted dune buggies. The whole film has the feel of a send-up of America produced by someone who’s never been to America, and couldn’t be any more bizarro-world stereotypical if one of the villains was a talking Big Mac.
But all of this insanity is more than worth putting up with, if only for the mind-blowing fight sequences, of which there are plenty. Mr. Chan once again assumes the highly unlikely role of a 65th-degree black belt who has clearly studied martial arts for decades, and yet is utterly shocked and horrified every time he has to fight someone. This oh-it’s-all-a-terrible-misunderstanding fighting style lends itself to some pretty amazing feats of environmental inventiveness. Mr. Chan is constantly strangling people with his jacket, blinding them with pop can spray, and generally proving without a doubt that he is the Picasso of improvised weaponry. In one memorable fight scene, he beats people with a refrigerator.
In an age of CGI wizardry and elaborate stunt design, Rumble In The Bronx looks dated (the outfits don’t help). And it’s sometimes difficult to remember that Mr. Chan actually did all this stuff, including a sequence that involved him jumping from one building to another and that, had it gone wrong, would have almost certainly killed him. The end of RITB is a giant let-down, featuring a hovercraft chase scene and a lot of people talking to the hovercraft as though it were a person, saying things like, “Hovercraft, this is the police!” But skip past the ending to the credits, and you’ll see a montage of people hurting themselves in the service of entertainment, proving that it was in fact Mr. Chan getting slammed in the face with a pinball machine, and almost having his testicles run over by a motorbike.
If pure fighting is more your speed, you’re probably better off watching The Legend Of Drunken Master, which came out a year before RITB and is a little more story-driven (the plot centres on stolen artifacts, or some such thing, and is wildly irrelevant). Although TLODM has way too little in the way of Jackie Chan hitting people with fridges, and way too much of Jackie Chan hamming it up as a drunk, it does feature some amazing fight sequences. It also contains myriad instances of people shouting the phrase, “Drunken boxing!” which is just a fun thing to say in any context. Also, whereas RITB ends on a dud, TLODM ends with one of the most drawn-out, meticulously choreographed fight scenes in history. Said fight scene runs for what feels like three hours, and by the time it finally ends, half a dozen people have been set on fire.
The Karate Kid (The 2010 remake)
Let me save you two hours of your life: the only good parts of this movie involve Jackie Chan beating children.
KUNG FU CALLOUT!
Readers, now’s your chance: Shame us with your much greater knowledge and nuanced appreciation of Kung Fu Klassics... what are your picks for best kick-em-ups on Netflix? School us in the comments.